5 Things You May Not Know About the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
by Christina Assi, Staff Contributor
The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) was signed as a parallel agreement to the NAFTA in 1994 and established the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) as an institution to support cooperation among Mexico, Canada, and the United States when confronting environmental issues. The CEC comprises three branches: (1) the Council, which is composed of environmental ministers from each of the parties to the NAAEC; (2) the Secretariat, which executes the Operational Plan authorized by the Council, publishes reports on environmental issues submitted to the CEC, and processes submissions on enforcement matters (SEM); and (3) the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), which is an independent body that provides advice to the Council.
The CEC Just Turned 20 Years Old
According to the Ministerial Statement, “Twenty years ago, North American leaders made a commitment that trade and economic growth would go hand-in-hand with effective trilateral cooperation and protection of the environment across the continent.” This past July, the CEC met for their annual Council Session, as well as to reflect back on the 20 years since the NAAEC took effect. The twenty-first regular session of the CEC Council took place in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada on July 7, 2014.
The CEC Released a Five-Year Plan
At the July session, the Council discussed the Strategic Priorities for the next five years (2015-2020). The CEC helpfully outlines their Strategic Priorities in the diagram below:
The diagram outlines the three priority areas of the next fives years: (1) climate change mitigation and adaptation; (2) green growth; and (3) sustainable communities and ecosystems. Across the three areas, the CEC will focus its initiatives and projects on “three important cross-cutting themes”: (1) learning from and assisting vulnerable groups and local and indigenous communities; (2) enhancing the alignment of environmental standards and regulations, enforcement, and compliance to promote environmental protection and facilitate trade in North America; and (3) enhancing information sharing, transparency, capacity building, and communication.
The SEM Protocols have been Revised and Modernized
In 2012, the guidelines for public SEM process were finally modernized to increase accountability and efficiency. The most significant change was the addition of target deadlines for Party responses and factual records (six months for a Party response and two and a half years for a factual record) to be released to the public. This cut the old timeline for submissions by half. Importantly, if a target deadline cannot be met, the CEC must give an explanation of the reasons and a new date for the action to be completed. Other improvements target transparency and accessibility: Key SEM documents are now made available in the three languages of the CEC (French, English, and Spanish) and submissions can now be filed and tracked electronically. These are all huge steps, which have helped the CEC release five updates on ongoing submissions, as well as encouraged Mexico, Canada, and the United States representatives to offer updates (at the annual Council session) on what their respective nations have done to act on concluded submissions in the past year.
The CEC has a YouTube Channel
The CEC’s YouTube channel, CECweb, is regularly updated and filled with informative videos that cover more than just the Council’s activities. As an institution whose primary form of enforcement is by disseminating information about environmentally harmful business practices to the public, a YouTube channel is key to accessing a broader demographic. The videos range from webinars to recorded CEC forums to educational videos on niche environmental issues. The topical educational programs are tightly packed into three-to-five-minute videos to keep in line with the attention span of a casual YouTube viewer. The channel is also home to CECTalks, a series of videos and webcasts that host panel discussions with environmental leaders from all over North America. View counts for the videos, however, are sadly low with around 100 views per installment. Here is a CECTalk about the cultural shift that needs to take place in order to make green building the standard in North America:
The CEC Wants to Hear from YOU
The JPAC arm of the Commission actively seeks input from the public at large. Again, this is an organization whose investigation culminates in releasing a “factual record” to the public. Public participation is therefore integral to the process. The JPAC conducts two regular sessions a year (apart from the CEC Council Sessions), which are open to the public and often webcast live. Each session has a theme and brings together scientists, policy experts, regional leaders, and NGOs to participate in discussions with the public (who can also submit their questions via email, Twitter, and Facebook if they cannot attend). The last session in 2014 is taking place right next door in Arlington, Virginia on November 6-7. The theme of this session is, in line with the Strategic Priorities discussed above, “North America’s Coasts in a Changing Climate.”